There are several ways that local government can help grow the economy by focusing on the digital economy.
In Thunder Bay's Digital Strategy that was issued in November of 2021, there were five ways to help accelerate the City's internal digital ecosystem. I define internal digital ecosystem as the City's digital government or the way in which the City government operates digitally. The function of the internal ecosystem impacts the City's external digital ecosystem.
A digital ecosystem is a complex network of stakeholders that connect online and interact digitally in ways that create value for all.
These stakeholders include networks like digital infrastructure (TbayTel), economic development agencies, businesses, content providers, physical networks and more. At the end of the day, its an interconnected system of people.
Five recommendations in the Strategy that I summarize below:
1. Put Governance in place
Mobilizing people to make critical digital decisions and an overall increase in digital consciousness. Digital consciousness is the City's digital savviness, culture and awareness across the organization. Digital must be recognized as central to everything the City does and to make its operations and service delivery more efficient and effective internally and externally. Investment in staff productivity, community benefit and improved customer service is a key imitative governance must evaluate. In past budgets, there was nothing budgeted for digital governance which I believe has an impact on economic growth since this impacts the external stakeholder ecosystem (ie. networks of residents, business, digital infrastructure and more).
2. Focus on increasing digital literacy and collaboration
Adopting Microsoft 365. Microsoft 365 is the collaborative productivity cloud software from with applications like Word, Excel and PowerPoint allowing everything into one to be connected.
The City must develop regional partnerships for piggybacking purchases and digital education programs for organizational leaders and management. Even adopting Linkedin Learning would be a great investment for City government.
The Digital Strategy stated that the City must procure/develop digital education programs for organizational leaders and management groups to help leaders understand the value to be gained from the digital world and how to take advantage of the opportunities it presents in the context of the internal ecosystem and external digital ecosystems.
3. Digitize cross-corporate processes end to end & put key digital platforms in place
The City must focus on the Business Solutions Layer to build the city’s digitized platform and to really help achieve the vision which is discussed below. To focus on the Business Solutions Layer, the City would have to focus on areas such as Finance and HR, Land and Permitting, Work and Asset Management, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Content Management and more. Budgets are in place for expenditures for digital workplace and digitized business processes which is great. Practically, CRM is non existent within the internal ecosystem and puts us as a "Digital Resistor" in this area. Most municipalities our size, like St. John's NFLD, have this process and technology in place. ST. John's uses Rock Solid CRM and even have an app residents can use to interact with the city government.
Rock Solid software solutions empower city and municipal leaders to digitally bridge the engagement gap between residents and their local government. With over 20 years of dedicated local government software innovation, they understand government operations and created a single digital space for local governments to easily translate their communities’ needs into actionable insights and services. Today, hundreds of local governments across North America use Rock Solid as their dedicated partner in engagement and operational efficiency.
4. Define current and target technology
The City's IT department is a capable team! The City currently uses 300 different business systems. There are various technologies budgeted for which is great to see.
5. Conduct data analysis to assist informed decision making
Without data you can’t build an internal ecosystem effectively to help serve the external digital ecosystem for one. Also, with data analysis, it will help in some areas for better decision making. Without integrated systems, it is difficult to harness data and thus difficult for governance to make critical strategic decisions. With 300 different business systems, this makes it hard to capture and analyze data from a governance stand point (centralized approach which is recommended vs a decentralized approach where decisions are being made in service areas). To get to true effective data analysis will take some time.
Achieving the Vision of the Strategy
To achieve the vision of the Digital Strategy in the midterm, these 5 areas documented above must be executed and budgeted for immediately.
Let's dive into the vision. Collaboration is at the heart of digital success. We all need to work together to help achieve this vision of the City. When I say together, I mean all stakeholders in the internal and external digital ecosystem in Thunder Bay. We must focus on the customer!
The customer are the users of the City’s technology and digital services which includes residents, businesses, visitors, Mayor and Council, the workforce, and partners.
Rather than from the City's perspective, services should be designed from the customer’s perspective and around their needs. Every great technology company like Google, Amazon or Facebook designs there platforms around and for the needs and benefit of the user.
In a future in which services are digitally-powered, interacting with the City should be simple, straightforward and designed around convenience for customers and staff alike. In other words, services must be delivered digitally for Thunder Bay's digital ecosystem to function and achieve population and economic growth. This last part will be explored in a future post
There will be more posts about Thunder Bay's Digital Strategy in future blog posts.